Headset vs. headphones

Headphones

If you’re serious about gaming and like to live stream or play online co-op games where you verbally communicate with other players, a decent headset is a must.

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What’s the difference between headphones and a headset? 

At first glance, headsets and headphones might look identical, but they have some key differences.

Headsets are more focused on microphone quality than high-end audio quality, so they’re great for gaming and making calls, but they’re not the best option if you mainly want to listen to music. On the other hand, headphones are primarily focused on audio quality, so they’re perfect if you want the best sound available but not ideal for talking to others while gaming or on work calls.

Headset

An attached microphone is the major difference between a headset and headphones. While headphones can have microphones built into the body of the earpiece, headsets usually have boom mics that extend from the earpiece so that the head of the mic is positioned closer to your mouth for greater clarity.

There are two main types of headsets: those designed for making or taking calls and those designed for gaming. The latter generally have better sound quality to make games feel more immersive. Headsets can cost anywhere from $15 for basic models to $300 for high-end gaming headsets. If you want further details, check out the full headset buying guide at BestReviews.

Headset pros

  • With the mic positioned closer to the user’s mouth, speech sounds clearer and the mic is less likely to pick up ambient sounds around you, which is perfect if you’re gaming or making calls in a noisy environment.
  • While you can use headphones and a separate mic for gaming or livestreaming, it’s cheaper and more convenient to use a headset.
  • Although audio quality isn’t always a priority, you can find some higher-end headsets with excellent audio quality, which is perfect for those games where it’s important to hear every little sound around you.
  • You can choose from both wired and wireless headsets, so you can pick out whichever is most convenient for you.

Headset cons

  • Even the best headsets don’t rival the audio quality of high-end audiophile headphones, so they’re not ideal for listening to music on.
  • Some headsets are only compatible with certain consoles, so you should always check compatibility before buying.

Best headsets

Razer BlackShark V2 Pro Wireless Gaming Headset

Razer BlackShark V2 Pro Wireless Gaming Headset

This headset provides excellent audio clarity and advanced mic controls, which is important for serious gamers. They feature ambient noise cancelation and are comfortable to wear for long stretches.

Sold by Amazon

Massdrop x Sennheiser PC37X Gaming Headset

Massdrop x Sennheiser PC37X Gaming Headset

With gaming know-how from Massdrop and premium audio quality from Sennheiser, this headset sounds great to listen to audio on and features a top-quality mic for communication.

Sold by Amazon

Logitech H390 Wired Headset

Logitech H390 Wired Headset

This affordable headset is primarily designed for making calls, so it’s ideal for anyone working from home who’d like a hands-free way to make calls without picking up background noise. However, it’s also good enough for casual gamers who aren’t too concerned about audio quality.

Sold by Amazon

Headphones

Headphones are primarily used for listening to audio with a focus on sound quality. Although headphones often feature a built-in mic, they don’t have attached boom-style mics and are more prone to vocal distortion, lack of clarity and picking up ambient sounds around you.

The term “headphones” is most often used to describe on-ear or over-ear headphones, while the term “earbuds” is used to describe in-ear headphones. Technically, earbuds are a type of headphone, so you have both bulky and compact options to choose from. Headphones can cost anywhere from less than $10 to more than $350.

Headphone pros

  • The focus of headphones is on sound quality, so they’re the best choice if you want to listen to music or wear your headphones while you watch movies. Of course, audio quality varies widely between the cheapest and most expensive headphones.
  • The majority of headphones feature built-in mics that are good enough for making the occasional hands-free call or participating in a video conference.
  • You generally need to pay less for decent audio quality when buying headphones compared to headsets. A $50 pair of headphones will sound better than a $50 headset.
  • Headphones are generally more compact than headsets and you even have extra-small options, like earbuds, while there isn’t a headset equivalent of these.

Headphone cons

  • If you want to chat to other gamers or talk on the phone using the built-in mic on your headphones, you’re more likely to lack clarity and pick up background noises around you.
  • Headphones with high-end audiophile-grade sound quality are expensive.

Best headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Headphones

These are some of the best wireless headphones around with incredible sound quality and impressive active noise cancelation. The built-in mic is of decent quality and they have integrated Alexa voice control to make using them hands-free a breeze.

Sold by Amazon

Sennheiser HD 559 Open Back Headphones

Sennheiser HD 559 Open Back Headphones

The open-back design of these headphones have an impressive depth of sound to make it feel like the audio is all around you when it’s being piped into your ears. These headphones do leak sound to a degree, however, so they’re best for home use.

Sold by Amazon

Philips Pro Wired Earbuds

Philips Pro Wired Earbuds

Anyone looking for compact, affordable headphones should consider these earbuds. They have high resolution audio with bass that’s powerful for a set of earbuds and feature an in-line microphone.

Sold by Amazon

Should you get a headset or headphones?

Headsets and headphones are both great at what they do, but they have different primary purposes. If you want to communicate with other gamers or talk on the phone for a good chunk of the day, buy a headset. While you can listen to music on a headset, a headset isn’t the best choice if listening to music will be your main activity. For listening to music and other types of audio, such as TV shows and podcasts, headphones are your best option.

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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

 

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